Fast-rising Lu and Lee, both 14, could provide Fischer v Spassky-style rivalry

<span>Lu Miaoyi (left) narrowly missed her first grandmaster norm in Reykjakiv while Alice Lee won $40,000 at the Women’s American Cup.</span><span>Composite: Fide</span>
Lu Miaoyi (left) narrowly missed her first grandmaster norm in Reykjakiv while Alice Lee won $40,000 at the Women’s American Cup.Composite: Fide

In November 2022 this column wrote that a then little-known 12-year-old Chinese girl, Lu Miaoyi, could join Judit Polgar and Hou Yifan among the top three women players in chess history: the world elite: It has taken a while, but the evidence is mounting.

Lu’s mother, Xu Yuanyuan, was Chinese women’s champion in 2003 and a double world girls champion. Lu learned chess at three, got her first Fide rating at five, and was 2200, master level, at 10. At 12, she defeated Armenia’s No 3-ranked woman, Lilit Mkrtchian, in a brilliant 18-move sacrificial miniature.

In tournaments around her 14th birthday last month. Lu closed in on the open IM title as rating rose to over 2400, Last week she played unbeaten through the first eight rounds at Reykjavik, where she defeated Zachary Saine, a well-known streamer, in 11 moves, drew easily with the former world No 2 Vasyl Ivanchuk, then checkmated the England No 9, Daniel Fernandez, in an attacking style reminiscent of Mikhail Tal.

Lu’s only defeat at Reykjavik, in round nine, cost her her first grandmaster norm. The next target for her will be the GM title, which Hou achieved at 14 years six months and Polgar at 15 years four months. A record there is not a given, because once Lu’s rating passed 2400, the K-factor or multiplier used to calculate her rating dropped from 40 to 10, thus slowing her progress.

While Lu was mowing down masters at Reykjavik, Alice Lee, also 14, was creating US chess history in the $150,000 (£119,000) Women’s American Cup at St Louis. Lee had lost both the 2022 and 2023 finals to the longtime US women’s No 1, Irina Krush, and seemed destined to fail again this year, but then she fought back.

Their classical and rapid mini-matches finished level, and it all came down to the final 3+2 blitz. Krush had an extra bishop after 27 Bb5?? Nf3+, but missed the chance of 30…Rf7! 31 Rxd4 Rxf2+! 32 Kxf2 Qf6+ when checks pick up the white rook and Black wins, and instead blundered into defeat. First prize was $40.000.

Lu and Lee will now be the fourth and sixth youngest 2400-plus women in chess history, with only Polgar, Hou and Kateryna Lagno (a world title candidate next month) ahead of both of them. The stage could be set for an epic rivalry, a female equivalent of the 1960s and early 1970s when Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky had some famous duels prior to their 1972 world title match. Their game at the 1970 Siegen Olympiad was a classic.

The Olympiad could be an apt comparison, for it seems likely that China will include Lu in its team for the 2024 women’s competition in Budapest in September, while Lee looks assured of a US team place after last week’s dramatic success. China will be the gold medal favourites, the US contenders for silver or bronze.

Beyond that, Lee and Lu will be the flag bearers in the decade ahead when international women’s chess could establish a permanently higher profile with help from other rising stars, not least England’s Bodhana Sivanandan, nine, who has been breaking historic age records.

Sivanandan competed this week in the Vera Menchik Memorial at the London MindSports Centre in Hammersmith, the first event staged with backing from the new £500,000 support for elite chess from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. It was held to commemorate the first woman world champion, who held the title for 17 years before her untimely death in 1944, when she was killed by a V1 rocket that hit her Clapham home.

England’s former No 1 woman Harriet Hunt, 46, who recently returned to chess after several years in an academic career, won the Menchik Memorial with 7/9, half a point ahead of a trio who included Scotland’s Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant, 55. The former world class duo showed their enduring skills in their best games.

Sivanandan’s 3/9 performance, six draws and three losses, was below her best, but she came straight from Reykjavik where she scored an impressive 5.5/9. Most of her games went the full distance, so she was playing two rounds and 10 hours a day. Narrow margins spoiled her result. She missed two simple wins through moving fast in her rook endgames speciality, while her losses stemmed from passive play out of the opening.

Next up for Sivanandan is the European Women’s Championship in Rhodes, Greece, from 19-29 April, where England, again with backing from the DCMS, is sending a strong delegation led by the British champion, Lan Yao, and the commentator Jovanka Houska.

Another DCMS-backed English norm event took place this week, the 4NCL GM Round Robin at Peterborough, where Marcus Harvey, 28, Matthew Wadsworth, 23, and Shreyas Royal, 15, tried for the GM norm of 6.5/9. Harvey went closest with 6, and was denied only when he only drew in the final round. Wadsworth scored 5, and Royal 4.

There was still an English-based 6.5 GM norm. Rajat Makkar, who represents France but is in his fifth year at Hampton School, Middlesex, where he takes his GCSE exams this summer, fought his way to the norm with on-demand victories in the final two rounds.

Makkar’s ambition is the GM title before he leaves Hampton, and this week’s performance was a giant step towards it. His entertaining game with Wadsworth finished with a king hunt and checkmate.

The world No 1, Magnus Carlsen, blundered a knight and the game to Richard Rapport in the opening round of the ongoing Grenke Classic. The position had WK f1, WR d3 and WB c5, against BK h6, BR c2 and BN c4 plus pawns irrelevant to the tactic. It was easily drawn, but Carlsen fell for the fork 1…Nd2+?? 2 Rxd2! and resigned due to Rxd2 3 Be3+ and 4 Bxd2.

It has been a difficult few days for the world No 1. Carlsen also blundered a knight when he lost to 10-year-old Faustino Oro in a one-minute bullet game on’s weekly Bullet Brawl. The Argentinian prodigy, known as “The Messi of Chess”, already has the youngest ever 2300 rating and IM norm over the board, plus a 3000 rating in online blitz.

3913 It’s mate in five by 1 Ng7+! Bxg7 2 g4+! Kxg4 (if fxg4 3 Qh2 mate or Kh4 3 Qg3 mate) 3 Bd1+ Bf3 4 Bxf3+ Kh4 5 Qg3 mate.